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Onkar Ghate and Michael J. Sandel

OAC Event to Challenge Prominent Harvard Philosopher

Many Americans believe that honest hard work and dedication should enable anyone to rise as far as their talents will take them. But in a new book, Harvard philosopher Michael J. Sandel argues that this is an overblown and even dangerous platitude.

In The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good, Sandel contends that the platitude is overblown because it relies on an almost religious attitude about how much of our success is up to our own doing. And it’s dangerous, he thinks, because when ordinary people buy into the promise of merit and fail to achieve it, this breeds resentment against elites that explains much of the “populist” turbulence in recent elections.

Because Sandel’s book raises philosophical questions about some of today’s most pressing current cultural and political controversies, and because his answers to these question demand critical scrutiny, students in ARI’s Objectivist Academic Center recently read the book in a course by Onkar Ghate on philosophic analysis. Class discussion spanned four sessions.

To add to that learning experience, the OAC will host Sandel for a live discussion with Ghate, who will analyze the book’s core claims from an Objectivist perspective, with Sandel being given an opportunity to respond.

“In the third-year program of the OAC, we ask students to read works by contemporary thinkers whose ideas are opposed to Objectivism,” says OAC instructor Ben Bayer, who will also moderate the discussion event. “We do this to challenge our students to learn how to analyze works they disagree with. There’s a special focus on being objective, on taking care to separate what these thinkers get right from what they get wrong. This event will give students the chance to ask direct questions of one of the thinkers they studied.”

Sandel has achieved global recognition from an online course on theories of justice and from his BBC series and podcast, The Public Philosopher. Onkar Ghate is an ARI senior fellow and its chief philosophy officer.

The event is private and reserved for current OAC students. However, OAC auditors can attend, and registration for that program is available prior to the November 20 event. In addition, an ARI Member Roundtable the following day will feature video highlights from the Sandel-Ghate session along with commentary by Ghate and Ben Bayer, with audience Q&A to follow. Roundtable attendees will have the chance to engage with fellow donors and ARI staff in breakout discussions following the presentation, which will last approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes. Membership details are available here. This short video summarizes the Sandel event’s anticipated value:

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Tom Bowden

Tom Bowden, J.D. and former civil litigator, is a research fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute.

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